View Full Version : 'Chancing' upon Freshwater Pearls in North America

01-04-2011, 06:32 PM
Hi everyone! So this will be my first post in this forum, and it involves an area of personal research that fascinates me: the culture of modern-day pearl hunters in North America. After browsing around the forum, there's a large collection of pearl experts here, and if any of you get a chance, I was hoping for some info on this somewhat obscure topic.

Before pearl farming and cultivating dominated the market, peoples used to strike it rich through an American form of pearl diving. These lone individuals in the Tennessee and Ohio Rivers kept their favorite spots in the rivers a secret. They lived in a world of distrust, muddy grime grime, and obsession -- all to chance upon the rare, traditional shaped freshwater pearls. Today, solo-pearl hunting is diminished and somewhat antiquated, but people still do it. Without a greater business incentivisation, there aren't many people who spend their time trying. I'm trying to find ways to get a hold of these people and the companies who contract them.

Here's a short article written about 20 years ago that conveys this culture: http://www.texfiles.com/features/pearls.htm

It's heavily stylized and well-written, but it's also difficult to confirm the descriptions and sub-culture. Have any of you come across people who spend their free time pearl hunting in freshwater rivers? If you have, I would really appreciate any help trying to track these people down.

Thanks everyone. -- Kevin

01-06-2011, 11:30 AM
Since nobody has replied yet I thought I would have a go at providing a possible contact. There is a lady called Kari Anderson who believe has some experience in this area. Her website is: http://www.karipearls.com/

Hope that helps.

01-06-2011, 10:00 PM
Kari is a fine source.The American Pearl Company is an even better source- they are a modern generation in the trade. and The US Pearl Company. If you will study this forum, you will find no less than two other people who know what is going on now. One is a diver, Mickeyy the other is another person deep in the American pearls territory I forget his Member name at the moment, who has been involved in the trade for a couple of generations. Maybe if you search for Mississippi pearls within this website you will uncover some of our threads about that.

That article is good enough to go by. Thanks for the source. They were and are secretive, esp in Texas. Did you contact the reporter who wrote it?

Watch out for Pearl Fever!! Those crazies in the Texas foothills have a bad case of it and most everyone on this forum has a case, too. It is chronic and leads to the acquisition of -more pearls. More pearls is only a palliative measure. There is no known cure. Part of it is the desire to be always upgrading your pearls as you learn more.

01-10-2011, 05:31 AM
I had to laugh when i read the term Pearl Fever. This must be what i have and am so happy i am not alone. I have recently been in contact with Kari of Karipearls in my search for a few natural pearls to call my own. Her website has information on all kinds of natural pearls and everything else under the sun as well.

01-10-2011, 07:40 AM
Orient, thank you for the link to Kari Pearls. A fantastic site/ shop! It was so interesting to see so many natural pearls in the one place when all I've ever seen are the standard freshwaters.

I think I am developing symptoms of Pearl Fever. I can't stop thinking about those pricey conch pearls. The fact that they look nothing like pearls as most people know it is what's fascinating to me. I don't believe I've actually seen them in the jewellery stores I've been to.

I think I have this little fantasy of owning as many pearls (cultured and natural) as I could possibly afford which is not many at this point in time :(

01-11-2011, 05:19 PM
Thank you very much for the help everyone. I called Kari last week and spoke to her for a little bit. She's a very nice woman, and she's certainly a great resource for anything natural-pearl related. I also called Bob at the Tennessee River Pearl farm in Camden. I'm hoping to hear back from him soon.

I have tried getting in touch with the writer of the article (Ira Kennedy) through email. Unfortunately, his email address isn't in use anymore. His primary-sources for pearl diving were very intriguing -- and exactly the kind of people I was looking to talk to.

I called about a dozen pearl jewelry stores in Tennessee last week, and many of them directed me to the source Caitlin gave me, The American Pearl Co. I've heard that the owners, the Latendresse family, have a long history in pearling, and they might be able to help me find modern-day pearl divers. I left them a voicemail... Hoping to hear back from them soon.

Thank you all for the help. These pearl divers are so difficult to find. I'm sure it's a product of their secretiveness :) I'll do more searches around this forum, and possibly send some private messages.

lisa c
02-23-2011, 03:30 AM
This is exciting, thanks for keeping us in the loop.

02-23-2011, 04:28 AM

02-23-2011, 04:30 AM
I don't know whether this is his current address:
9620 North State Hwy 16, Llano, Texas 78643

02-23-2011, 04:34 AM
I am a diver who has been gathering shells from the rivers of north America for about 40 years. I have found many pearls over the years. Pearls can be found anywhere in the river systems and lakes. Some areas you will find more on average then in other areas. It has more to do with the types of shell in the area, or the river bottom. The river bottom can be sandy, rocky or muddy. The current may be stronger in some places then in others. Generally we set aside mussel shells that may be deformed in some way. The chances of finding pearls in a mis-shaped mussel shell is also higher on average. Some areas may produce a pearl in every ton or two of shells harvested. Other areas maybe a few per ton. These pearls are not often round or valuable. But on occasion you can be pleasantly surprised. I have worked in Tennesee, Kentucky, Louisiana, Texas, Arkansas, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Oklahoma and Kansas.

I should point out that it is not legal to gather shell to find pearls. There are only a few states that still allow commercial mussel harvest. You would have to be a resident of that state in most cases. Nobody dives shells for pearls. Mussels are harvested for the shell. There are so few pearls and the work is so hard that it would not be worth it. Besides the fact that diving in the waters of the Mississippi river systems is done in the dark. There is no visability after about 3 feet. Oooo scary huh? LOL